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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

“Robin Hood in Reverse” Is Back: WPS Customers Oppose Hike in Mandatory Fixed Charges

For immediate release                                 
October 20, 2015
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Tyler Huebner, Executive Director

Nearly 370 people made public comments. None support this policy change.

Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPS), a utility based in Green Bay, proposed in May to further increase the mandatory fixed charge for electricity that each residential customer has to pay each month.  In 2014, WPS was approved by state regulators to raise this fee from $10.40 to $19, and they are now proposing to further hike the fee to $25 per month.

In total, this represents a 140% increase in the monthly mandatory “fixed charge” that each customer would have to pay.

Nearly 370 individuals spoke out against this proposal. Of significant note, not a single individual or organization who took the time to make a public comment is in support of these higher mandatory fees. Public comments were accepted online electronically, in paper format, and taken at a public hearing on September 9th in De Pere.

“It is clear that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly oppose WPS’ continued attempts to raise these mandatory fixed charges.  These high fixed charges are a Robin Hood in reverse scheme:  the lowest users of electricity end up paying substantially more, while high users of electricity get a windfall,” said Tyler Huebner, RENEW Wisconsin’s Executive Director.

In the public comments, a wide variety of concerns were aired, from seniors, low-income, fixed-income, energy conservation, and renewable energy perspectives. These perspectives can be seen from sample comments included below:

- “The senior community often live on the edge. With expenses for food, rent, medications & utilities constantly rising, saving money to pay these bills is extremely difficult. It is impossible to save on utilities when the base rate keeps rising. Careful usage does not work in this case. Please be aware of this as you decide what to do with the current rates. We could sit in the dark & our rates would still increase.” – Laura Frost, Wausau

- “Even if I turn down my heat, turn off my lights, and convert to solar or wind power I will be charged the same amount as someone who doesn't make any of those efforts.” – Janis Schmitz, Brussels, WI

- “Every year St. Vincent de Paul runs out of money in their budget that they have set aside for energy assistance… If we continue to raise the mandatory rates like this, these organizations that try to help the poor and the elderly are just going to run out of money, and they're going to be left behind without heat.”  – Jackie Thiry, Green Bay

- “What about all the people on fixed incomes? They often have to forego medications to pay utility bills.  – Geri Deprey, Green Bay

- “The increase in the mandatory customer charge and the modest reduction in energy rates hit low electricity users harder than high electricity users….  It is contrary to state energy policy. Wisconsin`s energy priority law states that to the extent feasible and cost-effective, electricity needs should be met first with energy efficiency and second with non-combustible renewable energy like solar. By reducing one`s savings from pursuing conservation and clean energy alternatives, this billing design encourages increased consumption of fossil fuels.” – Christine Morrissey, Appleton

- “I am living on a fixed income. I am 73 years old. I am already struggling to keep up with my rent, day to day needs and my electricity as it now stands. You will create a very uncomfortable and no win situation for me if I have to keep coming up with more money. I am required to keep my electric current to continue living in my apartment. I have no where else to go if I get evicted.” – Judith Specht, Green Bay

- “My family lives on my disability payment alone, as my wife must spend the majority of her time tending to me. Anything that impacts our budget has an extraordinary effect on our lives, literally taking food from our table. Please consider all of the families like ours that will be effected by this proposed rate hike, if it is granted. Thank You.” –Scott Horton, Oshkosh

"I believe that we are paying enough. Period. I live and work in a rural area. Many of my students struggle for basic needs. How can you justify another raise in our rates? When is enough--enough?
We are talking basic necessities -- we need light, we need heat. Our incomes are not keeping pace with the increases that are forced upon us. Please, stop."- Jann Sharpe, Oconto

Analysis by RENEW Wisconsin shows Wisconsin is an outlier on this issue.  “Although 35 utilities across 19 different states have proposed increases in mandatory fixed fees in the past two years, only in Wisconsin have large hikes been granted.  Fourteen utilities have been denied entirely, while eighteen have been granted small increases, from $0.10 to $4.30 a month for customers,” concluded RENEW’s Tyler Huebner.

The graphic above depicts 35 investor-owned utilities which have requested increases to the monthly fixed charge each customer must pay in 2014 or 2015.  The 14 utilities on the left-hand side were completely denied their request to increase the charge.  The middle 18 utilities were granted increases from $0.10 to $4.30 per month.  To the right, the three largest blue bars, all for Wisconsin utilities, show higher fixed charge increases of $6/month and more.  The two red bars depict 2015 proposals from Wisconsin utilities.  


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